Teens helping Sticklets pick up lacrosse earlier | PHOTOS

Coleman Braun, right, tells Phoenix Nguyen, left, when to run while playing a game during the Sticklets’ last practice of the Gwinnett Lacrosse League season last Saturday at Peachtree Ridge Park in Suwanee. (Staff Photo: David Welker)

Inspired by watching her older brothers, Sara Grieco picked up her first lacrosse stick in about the third grade. Her mother, Christine Grieco, helped coach. But third grade Sara was an extreme minority in the sport, even as it started to grow in popularity in Gwinnett County.

“They only had one team,” Christine Grieco said.

This left Sara playing up with the older girls lacrosse players, some as old as 15; a big gap for any athlete in any sport.

“I watched my brothers play all the time,” the younger Grieco said. “It looked really fun. It’s a fun sport.”

Along with her brothers and mother, Sara attended clinics and accepted the challenge of competing against the older girls. Fast forward five years and Sara is finishing up her eighth grade year at Twin Rivers Middle School and doing much more than playing lacrosse in the Mill Creek association of the Gwinnett Lacrosse League.

For the first year in Gwinnett County, the GLL opened up its ranks to girls like third-grade Sara, girls interested in playing lacrosse before age 10. Director of girls lacrosse for the GLL and Mill Creek assistant lacrosse coach Andrea Braun helped begin the program through the GLL, spreading the plan through word of mouth through the whole of the GLL’s 14 associations. Forty signed up.

“It was so fabulous, so fabulous (to get that response),” Braun said.

So for two hours, once a week, about 20 mostly first- and second-grade girls come to Peachtree Park for an hour of instruction followed by an hour of games. Called the “Sticklets,” the girls range in age from kindergarten to third grade.

Braun initially hoped to recruit parents to act as coaches or instructors to help imbue knowledge of the largely unfamiliar sport into both the parent and the children.

“The parent aspect has been the least successful,” Braun said, noting that most prefer to simply watch their young daughters from the sidelines.

But that opened an opportunity for Grieco and other middle and high school boys and girls lacrosse players. Invited as a way to pick up community service hours, many of these early adopters of the sport showed up week after week on Saturday mornings through the spring to help coach.

“I like helping people and I like promoting the sport to the young kids,” Grieco said, “and getting them to be more involved in lacrosse.”

Grieco is among a core group of about six youth coaches who attend most practices, and plenty of others come for one or two.

“All the kids are coming (to coach) because they love coming,” Braun said. “I think this feels like, ‘I am the big kid and I get to help the little kid.’ They are so good with them. They get down on their level. That has been, honestly, maybe more of my favorite part (than opening the sport to another generation) that these teenagers are giving back.”

The season ends this weekend with the Gwinnett County Lacrosse League County Championships at Buford. But, through the spring, week after week, Grieco and others help lead these Sticklets in their baby blue jerseys, goggles and clutching sawed-off lacrosse sticks in stretches and training stations. They helped teach passing, scooping, throwing, catching and other fundamentals. Then, they set the young girls loose for live play. Not that setting them young girls loose needs much instruction.

“They shoot a lot harder than some people my age,” Grieco said. “It’s funny. They are just shooting for the goal. They just kind of wail the ball at the goal and it’s hard.”

Gwinnett Lacrosse League County Championships

Where: Buford City Fields

When: Saturday

Schedule:

8:30 a.m. — Junior Boys West

9:45 a.m. — Junior Boys East

11 a.m. — Lightning Boys North

11 a.m. — Sticklets

Noon — Lightning Girls

12:15 p.m. — Lightning Boys South

1:30 p.m. — Junior Girls

2:45 p.m. — Senior Girls

3 p.m. — Bantam Boys

4 p.m. — Senior Cherokee Boys

5:15 p.m. — Senior Iroquois Boys

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